Can Tornadoes Cross Water? (Full Guide)

can tornadoes cross water

Tornadoes can be some of the most terrifying and destructive natural weather events to happen on planet Earth.

With around 75 percent of tornadoes happening in the United States alone, these rotating vortexes can cause millions of dollars worth of damage and destroy communities in seconds.

Today, we’re going to answer a question that often comes up when discussing tornadoes and put an end to a myth that has long been circulating. Can tornadoes cross water?

Yes, tornadoes that form on land are capable of crossing water. They can cross rivers, lakes, and other large bodies of water that are in their path. Tornadoes can even form on the water.

Can Tornadoes Really Cross Water?

The myth that tornadoes are not capable of crossing water is exactly that… a myth.

Tornadoes certainly can and do cross after whilst on their path of destruction. Almost nothing can stand in the water of some large EF4 and EF5 tornadoes.

A tornado can quite literally go wherever it wants, and no body of water, river, or lake is going to stop it from tearing through the landscape and causing mass destruction.

In 1925, the Tri-State tornado killed almost 700 people and injured more than 2000, and as of 2014, it was the deadliest tornado in recorded history.

As you can tell from the name, it didn’t have any respect for state borders, nor did it have any respect for the Wabash and Mississippi rivers as it crossed both of them.

What Happens If A Tornado Goes Over Water?

Tornadoes that travel over water become tornadic waterspouts, they’re essentially still a tornado but are swirling up water instead of debris.

Tornadic waterspouts have the same characteristics as a tornado on land, in that they can be equally as dangerous and cause havoc to harbors and shorelines.

That said, tornadoes that are formed on land and then travel over water will at some point start to lose power and dissipate.

This is true for large bodies of water such as large lakes and oceans, but crossing a river isn’t an issue for a tornado.

Tornadoes typically rely on warm, dry air that fuels their vortex, so when the moist, cool air comes into play the tornado can start to lose power quickly.

This is the same as when waterspouts that are formed over water reach land, they don’t tend to make it very far and lose power quickly.

However, waterspouts that do travel onto land can be dangerous and a tornado warning will be issued by local weather stations.

For the most part, many of the tornadoes that are formed in the US are from Tornado Alley, which is the Central states of America and is incredibly dry.

They will likely only encounter lakes or rivers which they are more than capable of crossing and maintaining power doing so.

Can Tornadoes Cross A River?

Yes, a tornado is more than capable of crossing rivers, lakes, and other large bodies of water. Nothing in nature or man-made gets in the path of a tornado ripping through the area.

The 1840 Natchez, Mississippi tornado was one that scarred residents as it ripped down the center of the Mississippi River and destroyed both shorelines along the way.

This incredibly strong tornado killed 317 people and left another 109 dead, with most of the deaths occurring near the river.

Can Tornadoes Form Over Water?

It’s important to remember that not all tornadoes form on land, and some can actually form on the water.

These are called waterspouts and they have a very similar level of destruction to their land-forming counterparts.

Waterspouts are generally broken into two categories: fair-weather waterspouts and tornadic waterspouts.

The difference between the two is that tornadic waterspouts are simply tornadoes that form over water or move from land onto the water.

They have exactly the same characteristics as a tornado and are often associated with severe thunderstorms and are accompanied by high winds, hail, and lightning.

Fair-weather waterspouts are usually much less dangerous. The term fair weather comes from the fact that these waterspouts usually form in fair and relatively calm weather.

They are much less violent than tornadic waterspouts and often form during the early to mid-morning but sometimes in the late afternoon too.

This type of waterspout is generally not associated with thunderstorms and bad weather.

Tornadic waterspouts develop in a downward thunderstorm whereas fair weather waterspouts begin to develop on the surface of the water and work their way upwards.

By the time the funnel is visible, a fair-weather waterspout has reached its maturity and likely won’t last much longer.

What Happens When A Tornado Meets The Ocean?

In the United States, it is rare for tornadoes to reach the ocean. This is because most of the tornadoes that happen in the US are formed in Tornado Alley, which is central America.

Tornado alley covers Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Texas, which are all quite far from the ocean.

That said, some tornadoes that are formed outside of the US do make it to the ocean, and depending on the size the tornado will then become a tornadic waterspout.

Tornadoes that hit the ocean often begin to lose power quite quickly as they are no longer running on the warm, dry air that they need to thrive.

Whereas waterspouts that are formed over the ocean are different and are usually much weaker than many tornadoes.

Final Thoughts

So, can tornadoes cross water? Absolutely! Rivers, lakes, harbors, and other bodies of water are no match for a raging tornado.

Strong tornadoes will cross anything in their path, and depending on the size of the water they cross will often maintain power and continue on their path.

That said, some tornadoes that are not so strong and reach large bodies of water such as large lakes or the ocean will begin to lose power rapidly.

This all depends on the size and power of the tornado, as the more powerful the vortex is the easier it will be able to cross water.

Hopefully, you’ve learned something new today about tornadoes crossing water and now have a better understanding of how they do so.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to stick around to learn more about tornadoes and another weather phenomenon that we discuss here at Gusty Planet.

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